In its most recent cybersecurity newsletter, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) provided guidance regarding identifying vulnerabilities and mitigating the associated risks of software used to process electronic protected health information (“ePHI”). The guidance, along with additional resources identified by OCR, are outlined below:

  • Identifying software vulnerabilities. Every HIPAA-covered entity is required to perform a risk analysis that identifies risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of ePHI. Such entities must also implement measures to mitigate risks identified during the risk analysis. In its guidance, OCR indicated that mitigation activities could include installing available patches (where reasonable and appropriate) or, where patches are unavailable (such as in the case of obsolete or unsupported software), reasonable compensating controls, such as restricting network access.
  • Patching software. Patches may be applied to software and firmware on a wide range of devices, and the installation of vendor patches is typically routine. The installation of such updates, however, may result in unexpected events due to the interconnected nature of computer programs and systems. OCR recommends that organizations install patches for identified vulnerabilities in accordance with their security management processes. In order to help ensure the protection of ePHI during patching, OCR also identifies common steps in patch management as including evaluation, patch testing, approval, deployment, verification and testing.